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Everything You Wanted to Know
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The History of the Direct Seller

As early as 2000 BC, in Babylonia, a law protected the welfare of its people, including the peddler, called the Code of Hammurabi.

Pedlars were the first direct sellers. Later, direct selling was a flourishing industry in Europe and continued to grow. It helped trade growth and took that trade to the four corners of the world. It is most likely that many of the pioneers that travelled to America were direct sellers.

Then in 1886, from a small office in Manhattan, David H McConnell started Avon, the industry giant we know today. It wasn't until the 50s and 60s that modern direct selling took off in the United States, then on to the UK during the 70s. By 1980, companies such as Herbalife were operating from Hobart in Tasmania to Reykjavík in Iceland.

I have my own stories of direct selling, and I'm sure many of you do. I remember back in the 70s, my dear mum going to Tupperware parties and then trying Avon for herself. A few years back, my wife worked with Kleeneze, which she really enjoyed, My wife also said that all the walking delivering catalogues was good exercise, which saved on gym fees (every cloud, so to speak).

Direct selling has become ever more popular in the UK since the 2008 recession. A mixture of less job security, austerity, the rise of new exciting companies and several other factors have given people the nudge they needed to go into business for themselves. Not everyone has the funds or can afford the financial risk to open a shop, so direct selling is a good starting option.

According to the Direct Selling Association, there are 563,000 people involved with the industry in the UK – however, what exactly is modern direct selling? Let's take an in-depth look into how it works, the pros and cons, what's required, the need to knows and last but not least, tips and advice from genuine direct sellers.

Stan Byford
Author and Web Guru
Kelly Duddridge
Freelance Researcher

Direct Selling as a Business

What does direct selling mean?

When you earn a living by selling products in a non-retail environment (shopless), it is called direct selling. Generally, you'll be an independent contractor as opposed to an employee. You'll have a direct selling organisation such as Amway or Younique from which you may buy and sell.

Sellers rely on their communication skills and often demonstrate products in people's homes to small groups, often called parties. With modern social media, many sell to their social network or create virtual parties.

People sell from their chosen organisation, offering varying products from company to company, most organisations commonly offer either health, cosmetics or homewares.

How does direct selling work today?

Since COVID, many companies are doing everything they can to support direct sellers. Some organisations, for instance, offer online catalogues and provide you with a unique URL (link). You, in turn, give that link to your customers so they can buy online; you then get paid a percentage of the sale called commission.

TIP: When researching your chosen company, it's always a good idea to see what support services they offer you.

That's just one way. Essentially you sell exclusive products (generally not sold in shops) to your customers and earn a commission.

Is Direct Selling a Good Business?


You may hear all about the success stories. But to make a decent living takes perseverance and hard work. You'll need to build a good network, so get out there and meet and chat to people who have shown interest in the products you promote. Building a good network will take time, whether that be online or not.

TIP: You'll never build a good network if you just focus on family and friends. One of the benefits of direct selling is meeting new and exciting people.

Always be professional and polite. Also being friendly, bubbly, chatty, outgoing, quirky and confident may also help. Find what works for you and stick with it. Beware of propositions that promise huge monthly earnings, while it is possible, good companies will never make these promises. So when choosing your organisation, do your research.

TIP: You may have seen people spamming social media with all sorts of promises on your earnings potential, I'd avoid these and again do your research.

My Pick of 10 Direct Selling Company Examples.

Liability1st covers direct sellers from many great direct selling organisations. Here are just ten I picked at random.
Use the carousel below to see examples of 10 legitimate companies in the UK. There is no best or worst. It will depend on you as to which company fits you best. But we'll discuss this further, later, when we talk about finding the right company.
  • Amway

    Founded 1959

    No initial outlay.

    Amway Business Owners earn money by selling high-quality brands covering health, beauty, energy, and home, and by helping others grow their businesses.

  • Enjo

    Founded 1985

    They use a system called afterpay to cover the cost of your starter kit which comes out of your future earnings.

    ENJOpreneurs promote and sell cleaning products that have no toxic chemicals

  • Avon

    Founded 1886

    Small initial outlay usually one of two choices: The welcome Kit £10 and the Ultimate Welcome Kit £30

    As an Avon rep you'll sell make-up, skincare, bath and body, fragrances, fashion and gifts

  • Forever Living

    Founded 1978

    Initial outlay is £199.75 for the Start Your Journey Pack.

    You'll promote a wide range of products based on Aloe. Health, skincare, drinks and gels Etc.
  • Herbalife

    Founded 1980

    Initial outlay around £40

    Nutrition, supplements and personal care if healthy living is your gig then Herbalife may be for you.

  • Scentsy

    Founded 2004

    Become a consultant for £24

    Scentsy’s flagship product line of scented, wickless Scentsy Bars heated in handcrafted warmers provides a safe, personal alternative to traditional candles. Additional product lines.

  • The 1:1 Diet

    Founded 1984

    Initial outlay £50 for your training, and once accredited, set up cost is £150.

    After training consultants provide one to one support, flexible weightloss plans, products and business opportunities.

  • Oriflame

    Founded 1967

    Initial outlay is £19 with an annual membership of £10. You can also purchase a premium business kit for an additional £20

    Becoming a Brand Partner you will promote and sell beauty products.

  • Usborne

    Founded 1973

    It costs just £48 to join with no additional subscriptions or renewal fees.

    Usborne Books offers a range of some 3000 exciting and inspiring books, and activities suitable for all ages.

  • Younique

    Founded 2012

    Initial outlay is £69 for the Younique Presenter Kit

    Younique's Presenters earn money by selling beauty and skincare products. Younique is one of the younger companies in my list.

    Which company is the top direct seller in the world?

    Amway, in 2019 was the leading direct selling company with a global revenue of 8.4 billion.

    Shall We Take a Look at the Pros and Cons?

    Different people, for various reasons, consider direct selling. It's essential, however, to look at the good, the bad and the ugly. The pros and cons are purely from my perspective, and you may find your own. Just a few of my selections below I'll touch on briefly,

    Direct Selling Pros in Detail

    • Low Financial Risk

      Time will be your most significant investment to start with, but the financial risks are minimal. Some companies charge for a starter kit. Due to MLM laws in the UK, companies cannot ask for an initial investment of more than £200 in the first seven days. As an added benefit in direct sales, it's unnecessary to buy goods before selling to your customers. So your start-up costs will be between £0 to £200 from the company you choose.
    • Flexible Working Hours

      Flexible hours depends on you, your other commitments and what free time you have. Don't forget, sometimes that phone may ring at an awkward moment.
    • Work From Anywhere

      As long as you have access to customers, you can work from anywhere. Some people have even used this to their advantage. When they're marketing and creating their network, they may post online from weird or exciting places. Turn your restrictions into opportunities.
    • Meet New People

      You often chat to and meet many new people, on and offline. Customers always come first, but others may also introduce more people to your social network, so be nice to everyone (I'll get to trolls).
    • Great Support Services

      I've seen many of these companies support services in my research. Services including online self-help videos, marketing tips and tricks, online e-commerce, digital catalogues and more, these businesses, after all, want you to succeed.
    • Benefits and Incentives

      I believe the incentives are self-explanatory, but as an example, some offer you discounts on products and bonuses for reaching goals.

    Direct Selling Cons in Detail

    • Time

      Okay, the cons, well, the first one is time. Yes, only a tiny percentage of sellers become really successful. Be prepared to put in the effort and build your network. The promise of earning potential in legitimate cases are true, but it takes time, good preparation, perseverance and a bit of a learning curve. Don't be afraid to be creative. It will also depend on your ultimate goal.
    • Self-Motivation

      Self-motivation and procrastination are tough. Some top professionals in their fields suffer from it (especially content writers). I have often sat staring at the screen, so many things to do, but where should I start? Before you know it, an hour has shot past. Motivation can come from the realistic goals you set yourself and family and friends, of course. Avoid procrastination by preparing and planning; you could create a list and work from that and why not plan a long-term strategy?
    • You'll Be Responsible

      More responsibility may or may not be a good thing; often, the other tasks like your finances, tax, tax returns, insurance Etc. are all down to you. But there are some excellent accounting apps out there. If it's in your budget, it will be worth your time speaking to an accountant.
    • Quotas

      What are quotas? Some companies set a percentage or value (you have to sell x by y date). If this is your first business, I would avoid companies with quotas unless, of course, you're confident and comfortable of achieving your quota.
    • Trolls

      Let's finish on Trolls and not the nice Dreamworks Animation kind. If you've spent any time on social media, you've most likely bumped into a troll. The argumentative looking for a fight, spammers, bullies and last but not least, the creepy ones. Remember, always be polite; block them and if you think it's warranted, report them to the platform you're on. Most social network platforms such as Facebook have community guidelines and are worth checking. If it's serious, then get in touch with the authorities.
    TIP: Separate your business' social network from your family and friends social network and never give out too much personal information.

    Finding the Best Direct Selling Company for You

    The first rule of selling anything is to be passionate about the product. If you don't care about what you're selling, it will be so much harder to overcome the obstacles to success. If you love trying makeovers, then cosmetics may be a great choice; if, however, you're into fitness, perhaps nutrition will be more a better fit.

    Now you need to look at the companies that offer the products that spark your interest. Try out the products if you can, check the commission structure and benefits offered. Do the company values fit with your values?

    Where's the best place to start looking for your new business partner? The Direct Selling Association (DSA) have a list of member companies operating in the UK. Of course, you may be recruited by a friend or already have a company in mind.

    There are some great companies that are not members of the DSA. I may of mentioned this a few times already, but please do your homework. How long has the company been operating? What are their reviews like? Do they have great support services? Speak to other reps already working for your chosen company for more insight. Always find the best fit for you. You can always change your mind later on.

    TIP: If you go to bed thinking about makeovers and wake up thinking about makeovers, selling cleaning products may not be for you. Always focus on what you love.


    The Law and You

    Let's look at legal obligations and other concerns that may not have come to mind yet, these are all important things to consider and look into further.

    Are there regulations for direct selling?

    There are laws covering selling in the UK and many other things you may not have thought of yet. May I suggest reading the DSA's Code of Practice PDF? It will be worth your time.

    Suppose you plan on selling to people in other countries. Seldia EU is the DSA equivalent in the EU. Outside of that, you will need to comply with WFDSA World Codes of Conduct for direct selling.

    Distance selling laws

    Selling goods or providing services via digital TV, mail order, or phone or text message is distance selling. The UK government's guidance on distance selling states that there are conditions and information you need to provide before your client places an order. You will need to meet these requirements to comply with the law.

    Your Tax and You

    You will most likely be self-employed, so you'll need to register with HMRC. You'll now be responsible for paying your tax and National Insurance, and each year you will need to file a tax return. If it's within your budget, it may be a good idea to hire the services of an accountant.

    The DSA recommend DSL Acounting for your direct selling accounting needs.

    Since Brexit, selling to anyone in the EU has a new set of rules and requirements to adhere to; GOV UK has a wealth of information.

    Employing Help

    If your business is going well, you may need to hire some help. Whether it's to help with your business or perhaps to carry out other duties to free up some more time for you, you'll probably need Employer's Liability.

    Employer's liability is a legal requirement in the UK whether you hire paid or voluntary staff on a permanent or temporary basis.

    There are some exemptions. Speak to your insurance broker or give us a call if you need to check.

    Will you use your car?

    If you are going to people's homes, how will you get there? Plan on using your vehicle, then you need to speak to your insurer as your cover may need to be changed. Of course, you will be responsible for the vehicle tax, MOT, maintenance and, as mentioned, your insurance.

    Will You Be Working From Home?

    Anyone starting a business in direct sales will, most likely, begin their business from home. As such, there a few more things you need to take into consideration.

    Permissions

    Check with your landlord, agent or mortgage provider that working from home will not conflict with any agreement rules you've signed. You don't want a great start marred by restrictions you missed, and if you can't work from home, family or friends may be able to provide you with a base of operations.

    Insurance

    Are you going to host parties at your home? Will you be visiting other people in their homes? Public liability insurance is a necessity, although not a legal requirement. You don't want to lose your business because someone tripped on your vacuum cord and nosed dived through the glass coffee table. (you should have it in place regardless, and at under £28 for the year, the protection for you and your livelihood is priceless)
    Liability1st is our dedicated direct selling insurance website. Established in 2006 it has been providing low cost liability insurance for direct sellers via an online quote and buy facility. Cover starts at less than £28 peryear for public liability insurance.
    Direct Sellers' insurance provider

    Food Hygiene

    When we have guests, most of us want to be the perfect host. Offering drinks and nibbles is a genuinely great idea but remember there are laws surrounding food hygiene. You'll want to abide by those rules to not only protect yourself, but to protect your customers too.

    Tax Allowances

    Remember the tax that's now your responsibility? Well, I have some good news, if you work from home, you can claim allowances from HMRC. Another reason it's worth chatting to an accountant is they may pay for themselves by saving you from paying unnecessary tax and helping you claim allowances.

    Before you go let's hear from Direct Sellers themselves.

    Hopefully, the information we've provided has answered many of your questions. But no one has as much insight into direct selling as the actual sellers.

    Lynn's Story

    Information References

    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_selling
    • https://dsa.org.uk/supplier-dsl-accounting/
    • https://directselling.org.au/history-direct-selling/
    • https://wfdsa.org/
    • https://www.seldia.eu/
    • https://dsa.org.uk/
    • https://www.you.co.uk/
    • https://www.food.gov.uk/

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